- The Benefits of Yoga
- Maintaining a regular yoga practice can provide physical and mental health benefits
- 10 Benefits of Yoga That Make the Workout Totally Badass
- #10 Benefit of Yoga: It Fights the Flu…
- #9 Benefit of Yoga: It Scores You Dates
- #8 Benefit of Yoga: You Can Practice It With Your Pet
- #7 Benefit of Yoga: Outfits Made for the Studio—And Real Life
- #6 Benefit of Yoga: It Encourages Body Positivity
- #5 Benefit of Yoga: It Seriously Slashes Stress
- #4 Benefit of Yoga: It Makes Sex So Much Better
- #3 Benefit of Yoga: It Can Help You Eat Better
- #2 Benefit of Yoga: It Makes You Smarter
- #1 Benefit of Yoga: It Protects Your Heart
30 benefits of a daily yoga practice
- 1. Yoga makes you feel better – simple as that!
- 2. Yoga increases your flexibility
- 3. Yoga improves your strength
- 4. Yoga boosts your immune system
- 5. Yoga helps you to focus
- 6. Yoga changes your energy
- 7. Yoga boosts your metabolism
- 8. Yoga reduces anxiety
- 9. Yoga helps you to be more mindful
- 10. Yoga soothes your skin
- 11. Yoga gives you some ‘Me-Time’
- 12. Hydrate Your Spine
- 13. Yoga boosts brain power
- 14. No space? No worries!
- 15. Yoga helps you to breathe better
- 16. Yoga helps you to stand up taller
- 17. Yoga helps you beat the blues
- 18. Yoga improves your balance (in body and mind)
- 19. Yoga helps to clear the toxins
- 20. Yoga frees your feet!
- 21. Yoga has anti-inflammatory ‘properties’
- 22. Yoga helps give meaning to your day
- 23. Yoga helps you to express gratitude
- 24. Yoga teaches you to know yourself
- 25. Yoga regulates your body clock
- 26. Increase compassion
- 27. Yoga helps you to become more body aware
- 28. Yoga helps you to accept whatever life brings to your table
- 29. Yoga gives you a natural wind-down
- 30. Yoga is a life-long lesson
- 1. Pain Reliever
- 2. Yes, You Can!
- 4. Happy Day
- 5. Stay Sharp
- 6. Maintenance Plan
- 7. Rest Easy
- 8. Better Sex
- 9. Cool Inflammation
- 10. Younger-Looking DNA
- 11. Immune Activity
- 12. Your Spine on Yoga
- 13. Keep Your Heart Healthy
- 14. Joint Support
- 15. Watch Your Back
- 16. Control Blood Pressure
- 17. Down With Diabetes
- 18. News Flash
- 19. Emotional Rescue
- 20. Power Source
- 21. Balancing Act
- Bringing Yoga and Western Medicine Together: Duke Integrative Medicine
- Turning Doctors Into Mind-Body Experts: Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine
- Caring Health Care: Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program
- Yoga – Benefits Beyond the Mat
- How To Balance Yoga, Health and Wellness
- The Trinity
- Your brain on depression
- Yoga takes the edge off
- How I learned to love my body; 2 minutes with Jessamyn Stanley
- Yoga helps you chill out and stay sharp
- Yoga molds your brain in very good ways as you age
- How to get the most out of yoga
- 3 Yoga Poses for Better Sleep
- More “This Is Your Brain On”
- Why Yoga Benefits Your Mind and Body
- Doing Yoga Poses is Physically Engaging
- Yoga Teaches Balance, Focus, and Concentration
- 1. Improve flexibility, strength, and posture
- 2. Better all-round fitness
- 3. Weight loss
- 4. Increase your energy
- 5. Reduce stress
- 6. Breathe better
- 7. Be happier
- 8. Become more mindful
- 9. Improve concentration and think clearer
- 10. Live longer
- Yoga: What You Need To Know
- What is yoga and how does it work?
- What are the health benefits of yoga?
- What does research show about yoga for wellness?
- Can yoga help with pain management?
- Is yoga a good way to lose weight?
- Can yoga help you quit smoking?
- How does yoga affect mental health?
- Can yoga help with menopause symptoms?
- Is yoga helpful for people with chronic diseases?
- What are the risks of yoga?
- How popular is yoga in the United States?
- Why do Americans practice yoga?
- Do different groups of people have different experiences with yoga?
- Research Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
- More To Consider
- 77 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga
- 1. Improves Your Flexibility
- 2. Develop Your Strength
- 3. Reduce Your Stress Level
- 4. Increase Your Sex Drive
- 5. May Help You Lose Weight
- Take Home Message
The Benefits of Yoga
Maintaining a regular yoga practice can provide physical and mental health benefits
Learn about the different types of yoga and how it can be used as a tool to help you stay healthy.
Like yoga, the osteopathic approach to wellness focuses on your body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing.
“The purpose of yoga is to build strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body,” explains Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor in Hollywood, California.
While there are more than 100 different types, or schools, of yoga, most sessions typically include breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming postures (sometimes called asana or poses) that stretch and flex various muscle groups.
“As an osteopathic physician, I focus a lot of my efforts on preventive medicine and practices, and in the body’s ability to heal itself,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy because it’s based on similar principles.”
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, focus on prevention by examining how your lifestyle and environment impact your health, rather than just treating your symptoms. They also complete extensive postgraduate and clinical training before becoming fully licensed physicians. Compare physician training requirements to those required for other types of clinicians.
Is group exercise more beneficial than working out alone?
Find out on DoctorsThatDO.org
Because there are so many different kinds of yoga practices, it is possible for anyone to start. “Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style,” says Dr. Nevins. “The idea is to explore your limits, not strive for some pretzel-like perfection. It is a great way to get in tune with your body and your inner self.”
“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome,” explains Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.”
Other physical benefits of yoga include:
- increased flexibility
- increased muscle strength and tone
- improved respiration, energy and vitality
- maintaining a balanced metabolism
- weight reduction
- cardio and circulatory health
- improved athletic performance
- protection from injury
Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. “Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.”
Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s mental well-being. “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration,” says Dr. Nevins. Body- and self-awareness are particularly beneficial, she adds, “because they can help with early detection of physical problems and allow for early preventive action.”
10 Benefits of Yoga That Make the Workout Totally Badass
Photo: Getty Images / Sarawut Doungwana / EyeEm
It’s no secret that the benefits of yoga transcend just getting a great body. Regular downward dogs and warriors can transform the rest of your life, too. Your posing practice can transform your life on-and far from-the mat in many ways.
Read on, yoginis, as we’re counting down the top 10 unexpected body and brain benefits of yoga.
#10 Benefit of Yoga: It Fights the Flu…
…and any other bug you’re trying to beat. By influencing gene expression, yoga strengthens your immune system at the cellular level, according to research out of Norway. The best part? The benefits of yoga come quickly. Your immunity enjoys a boost even before you leave the mat. (Related: Is it OK to Work Out When You’re Sick?)
#9 Benefit of Yoga: It Scores You Dates
Practice yoga, get more dates. When Wired, OkCupid, and Match combed through the 1,000 most popular words used by men and women in dating profiles, they found that people who mention yoga are ranked among the most attractive of online singles.
#8 Benefit of Yoga: You Can Practice It With Your Pet
Thanks to “doga”-which started in New York in 2002, according to The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America-you can practice yoga with your dog. Pups can pose alongside you, or you can use them as furry props. While a few feline yoga classes exist, cats seem to be more fond of interrupting yoga. Mrrow. (Puppy Pilates is pretty darn cute, too.)
#7 Benefit of Yoga: Outfits Made for the Studio—And Real Life
What’s better than scoring a new outfit that keeps you supported during the most intense of yoga flows—and while you crush your to-do list? Pretty much nothing (okay, puppies). Score Athleta’s Salutation Stash Pocket Tight in Powervita fabric. The lightweight material provides a hugged-in feeling, while also wicking sweat away to keep you feeling cool during and after your workout.
#6 Benefit of Yoga: It Encourages Body Positivity
In more #LoveMyShape news, there’s no one “yoga body,” and curvy gals are proving they can rock inversions, too. They’re sharing photos of themselves performing yoga poses with the hashtags #curvyyoga, #curvyyogi, and #curvygirlyoga. Jessamyn Stanley, a self-proclaimed “yoga enthusiast and fat femme” for instance, now has more than 410,000 Instagram followers and counting. By taking this benefit of yoga to heart, you’ll find yourself being nicer to yourself in class. As a result, you may find that you won’t be so hard on yourself in the real world when you slip up. (Related: Body-Pos Yogi Jessamyn Stanley Has a New Goal to Get Strong As Hell)
#5 Benefit of Yoga: It Seriously Slashes Stress
Anyone who has ever settled into child’s pose knows yoga is calming. “The tensing and relaxation of muscles during yoga-along with mindful awareness of physical sensations-helps us relax,” explains physician Jamie Zimmerman, M.D., a Sonima meditation instructor. That may be one reason why just eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improves sleep quality in people with insomnia, according to a Harvard University study.
#4 Benefit of Yoga: It Makes Sex So Much Better
While it’s natural to feel sexier as you become stronger and more confident (no matter the exercise), yoga’s sex-enhancing ways go beyond those of other workouts, says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D., coauthor of V Is for Vagina. It not only tones your muscles, but it improves your flexibility, increases your core stability, and strengthens your pelvic floor muscles-which translates into a tighter down-there grip and stronger orgasms, she says. (Try these yoga moves for better sex.)
#3 Benefit of Yoga: It Can Help You Eat Better
Research from the University of Washington shows that people who regularly practice yoga eat more mindfully compared to other exercisers. “Yoga encourages you to focus on your breathing, and the sensations in your body,” explains Dr. Zimmerman. “This trains your brain to notice what’s happening your body, helping you pay more attention to sensations of hunger and satiety.” The result: You see food as fuel. No more emotional eating, stuffing yourself silly, and food-related guilt.
#2 Benefit of Yoga: It Makes You Smarter
Twenty minutes of yoga improves the brain’s ability to quickly and accurately process information (even more so than running does), says a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. “While most exercise gives you a choice to either zone in or zone out, yoga encourages you to return to the present and pay attention,” Dr. Zimmerman says. “This mindful awareness has been correlated with structural changes in the brain, including growth in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function, working memory, and attention.”
#1 Benefit of Yoga: It Protects Your Heart
Your yoga instructor is always talking about “opening your heart” for a reason. “Yoga can reduce high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and stress, all risk factors for heart disease, says Larry Phillips, M.D., a cardiologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center. And it’s not just the chill factor: Performing savasana (here’s how to get the most out of this “corpse pose,” BTW) is associated with greater improvements in blood pressure compared to simply lying on the couch, according to research published in The Lancet.
- By By K. Aleisha Fetters
30 benefits of a daily yoga practice
Bring these benefits into action by trying our recommended classes that go with each point. You’ll need an EkhartYoga membership to give them a go.. but becoming a member is easy!
1. Yoga makes you feel better – simple as that!
Pick a suitable class for your level and approach it with an open mind – you’ll feel different, more open, present and happier. If you don’t believe us, try it!
- Try our 3-in-1, joy-themed class with three wonderful teachers, Anat Geiger, José de Groot and Esther Ekhart: It’s a feel good class
2. Yoga increases your flexibility
If you haven’t heard about yoga’s ability to increase flexibility, you might have been living under a rock for the past twenty years 😉 To gain more flexibility, it is worth practicing yoga regularly and consistently in order to build muscle memory; take your time though, and be patient!
- Try our classes specifically focused on flexibility.
3. Yoga improves your strength
Yoga isn’t just about stretching and bending, it also requires a surprising amount of strength. Physical strength is important in order to prevent injury, boost the immune system and metabolism and help make everyday tasks easier.
- Learn how to access your inner and outer strength in our intelligently designed program – Building Essential Strength.
4. Yoga boosts your immune system
Any form of movement is great for keeping the immune system healthy. With yoga’s twisting, inverting, back bending, and calming, the body is able to spend more time within the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and less with the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system, which causes stress and inflammation and dramatically lowers the immune system).
- Try this sequence to balance the whole endocrine system and thus improve your body’s defence mechanism.
5. Yoga helps you to focus
Because your mind will be quieter and clutter-free it’s easier to direct the energy to where you want it to go. In yoga they say you develop one-pointedness concentration through practice. You train the mind to become aware and present. Research has shown that after a yoga class you are generally better able to focus your mental resources, process information more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively.
- Try this Mantra for patience, wisdom and focus.
6. Yoga changes your energy
If your morning routine starts with dragging yourself out of bed and gulping down a coffee, try ten rounds of Surya Namaskar or some Kapalabhati pranayama, and notice the energising effects it has on the nervous system. Conversely, if you need a change later on in the day, just a few minutes of asana practice can re-balance the nervous system, calm the mind and give you a different perspective.
- Restore your energy and immunity with this special online guided program.
7. Yoga boosts your metabolism
A morning yoga practice will help to get the blood, breath and muscles moving before breakfast, therefore allowing the nutrients from your food to be better absorbed. A strong practice can help build muscle, dramatically boost metabolism, and breathing fully and deeply increases circulation, also helping the metabolism to stay ticking along nicely.
- A little bit of pranayama, a little upper body strength, of course, some opening work as well. Start the day with a clean slate with this class – Your morning cuppa.
8. Yoga reduces anxiety
Shallow breathing, poor posture and tense muscles are both results and causes of anxiety. If you’ve been stuck in an anxiety cycle for a long period of time, it’s likely that your body has almost learned to protect itself by remaining tense, physically closed off and with very short, sharp breaths. The mind and body are so closely interlinked, that physically deepening the breath, improving posture and relaxing the muscles in a safe space can all help reduce anxiety.
- Move From anxiety to calmness with this yin yoga class.
9. Yoga helps you to be more mindful
Mindfulness is a buzz word at the moment and – with all the apps, downloads, classes and CDs – has become a billion dollar business. Mindfulness, however, doesn’t have to mean meditating for long periods of time, and it doesn’t have to be something profound that’s difficult to keep up. Being mindful just means paying a little more attention to each action you do, allowing you to be more present, aware and alive in each moment. Better to be mindful than mind-full…
- Try our online guided Mindfulness Training programme.
10. Yoga soothes your skin
The skin is one of the first places in the body to display signs of stress and nutrient deficiency. By practicing a combination of some of the more calming aspects of yoga, such as Pranayama and meditation, as well as an active yoga practice, the body and all its systems receive better circulation, and the reduced stress levels can even help reduce conditions like acne and eczema.
- Clear and cleanse with Afke’s class, Breathe and free the mind.
11. Yoga gives you some ‘Me-Time’
Having a little time for yourself is extremely important – particularly for those who spend their lives caring for others. Giving to others is a vital aspect of life, and helps us feel more connected to the world around us. However, in order to give, we have to be full first. As Gandhi (and Jimi Hendrix) said “If you want to change the world, change yourself first”.
- Need some time to reconnect with yourself? Try this You time meditation with Esther Teule.
12. Hydrate Your Spine
Moving the spine in a safe, healthy way encourages synovial fluid to be released into the column of the spine. In the morning, the spine contains a little more of this fluid, but in the evening the spine is more compressed and ‘dehydrated’ (hence why we’re somewhat ‘shorter’ in the evenings!). Practicing spine-lengthening postures like Downward Facing Dog, as well as inversions, can help to bring some moisture and life back to our all-important spine.
- Get your spine moving in 6 different directions in Wake up and warm up with Jennilee Toner.
13. Yoga boosts brain power
Moving in a way that is different to our daily patterns helps the brain work harder and can help keep the brain healthy. Twisting asanas, and anything which involves crossing limbs over the body (a little like the cross-crawl practice where you alternatively extend opposite arm and leg from a table top position) are fantastic for balancing the brain hemispheres. To bring things into balance daily, practice Nadi Shodhana, the ‘channel cleansing’ breath, which helps to balance the brain and calm the mind.
- Clear the mind ‘fog’ with this Quick fix brain balance class.
14. No space? No worries!
Unlike many other physical activities, a yoga asana practice only needs space for your body. Aeroplanes, dorm rooms, offices and even jail cells, yoga can be practiced pretty much everywhere.
- Try Yoga behind your desk with José de Groot.
Inspired already? Follow our programme 30 Mornings with Yoga!
15. Yoga helps you to breathe better
The emphasis on breathing in yoga is something beginners often struggle with, but over time moving with the breath becomes second nature. Just the ability to breathe more fully and deeply can have a very profound impact on overall health, and is worth practicing every day. You might not have the postures with you for your whole life, but you have your breath in every moment.
- Establish a regular Pranayama practice with our Ten days of Pranayama program.
16. Yoga helps you to stand up taller
Like much of the population, it’s likely you spend some part of the day hunched over a desk, screen phone or steering wheel. This slouched posture emphasises the kyphotic curve of the thoracic spine, and in turn collapses the chest, puts pressure on the lungs, heart and lower back, and is a sure way to bring on a bad mood. Simply standing up a little taller and opening the chest can have instant positive effects on mood and overall wellbeing.
- Learn how to balance your curves for both stable and mobile movement and watch your posture change: Spinal integrity – finding your curves.
17. Yoga helps you beat the blues
Movement is one of the best ways to bring about a good mood, and yoga is an especially effective medicine when it comes to battling the blues. Yoga taps into the nervous system, helping to release hormones that improve the mood. Focusing on something positive each time we practice yoga is also an effective way to imprint that positivity into the mind, so the more you practice, the more you’re likely to notice yourself smiling…
- Try: Yoga for a great mood – Yin style with Esther – a great yoga class to get the energies flowing when you feel a bit stuck!
18. Yoga improves your balance (in body and mind)
Balancing yoga postures help the brain to fire neurons that help with muscle memory and spatial awareness, and using the feet regularly in a daily yoga practice can strengthen the muscles of the foot, of which there are over 100!
- Check out our Balanced Body and Mind programme.
19. Yoga helps to clear the toxins
While it’s controversial as to whether twisting yoga asanas actually ‘detox’ the body, it’s fair to say that a yoga practice definitely helps to clear toxins from the body. Getting things moving inside and outside helps shift any lurking toxins and rids the body of them quicker. Being aware and mindful of your thoughts too, can help to ‘detox’ the mind of any ‘toxic’ thoughts….
- Find out how to Decrease your toxic load.
20. Yoga frees your feet!
Being barefoot is more important than we might expect. Many shoes are designed more for the way they look than the way they feel, and you may be surprised to know that your favourite shoes could actually be the cause of your aches and pains. Our feet are the foundation of the body, so giving them time to breathe, to move freely and to articulate in a way that allows the arches, joints and bones of the feet to move naturally can help the alignment of the body improve. It’ll also save you washing your socks so often 😉
- Try this short class with Helen Noakes to Awaken your feet.
21. Yoga has anti-inflammatory ‘properties’
Decreased stress levels, better blood and oxygen circulation, and an increase in ‘happy hormone’ neurotransmitters all help to decrease inflammation. Calming Pranayama practices, in which the length of the out-breath is increased, can also be a way to powerfully reduce inflammation.
- Increase your breath capacity over time with this Increased exhalation, pranayama and mantra class with David Lurey.
22. Yoga helps give meaning to your day
We’ve all heard the song It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It, and while the song might be catchy, the deeper meaning is very profound. Spending a little time in the morning setting an intention, focus or Sankalpa for the day, helps us come back to that intention each time we need to make a decision. Setting an intention can also help us to be more aware of our actions, and can give the day much more meaning.
- Find an intention that resonates with your heart’s desire in this class with James Reeves – Setting intentions – what lies beneath?
23. Yoga helps you to express gratitude
Traditionally, yogis would rise with the sun and perform Surya Namaskar, (Sun Salutations) as a way to greet the new day and pay homage to the sun, the giver of warmth, light and life.
- In this short and sweet practice learn the mantras for each of the 12 movements in a Sun Salutation with Jennilee Toner – Gratitude for the sun.
24. Yoga teaches you to know yourself
Unlike group sports activities, yoga is a very internal and personal practice. Even though you might have practiced in a class with lots of other people, the focus is still on what is happening inside you. ‘Pratyahara’ is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and it refers to turning one’s senses and awareness inward in order to discover more about the person’s own body and mind. We have to live with this body and this mind for a whole lifetime, so it’s worth taking time to get to know it, and even make friends with it.
- Come home to yourself in this yin class with Anat Geiger.
25. Yoga regulates your body clock
Naturally, humans would rise with the sun and sleep when it’s dark. Since the invention of electricity and the light bulb however, we’ve been able to hack night time, which means getting up when the sun rises doesn’t always sound like the most welcome way to start the day. Practice getting up a little earlier however, and you’re likely to start noticing your body clock comes back into balance, and an improvement in your sleep. Ayurveda – the ancient ‘sister science’ of yoga – tells us that the hours between 10pm and 2am are the body’s natural time of rejuvenation, that the best way to start the day is to get up as close to sunrise as possible, and head outside ASAP for some natural sunlight. The hours between 6am and 8am are best for ‘spiritual practice and exercise, like asana and walking’.
- Vata imbalances can leave you restless, anxious, fearful and unable to sleep well. Try this sequence to restore balance.
26. Increase compassion
The Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) meditation is intended to increase compassion and kindness towards others and ourselves. Humans are born to be compassionate and to feel emotions, yet the modern world often leaves us feeling more disconnected than ever. All our actions and even thoughts have impact on the world around us, and if the saying Love Makes The World Go Round is true, then practicing feeling love and kindness for others will make more difference than you might expect.
- Try this energizing sequence with Anat Geiger, designed to develop strength and compassion in your practice – We are the warriors of compassion.
27. Yoga helps you to become more body aware
“Listen to your body” is something you’re likely to have heard most yoga teachers say, but what does it mean? Any ‘good’ yoga practice encourages feeling instead of forcing, gradual progress instead of instant gain, and a way of moving that is helpful instead of harmful. A study from the department of Psychology at Berkley, California, showed that yoga practitioners have more body awareness, responsiveness to bodily sensations, and even body satisfaction than those who do not practice yoga.
- In this class the focus is on listening to your own body, so you can learn to regulate your effort – Listen and regulate with Sandra Carson.
28. Yoga helps you to accept whatever life brings to your table
Yoga teaches us that everything changes. Both the positive but also the painful things in life come and go. Knowing this and understanding this on a deeper level makes it easier to accept and stay present and positive, also through the hard times.
- Try this energizing and grounding practice and learn some tools to accept, flow and surrender to change: Transform and grow with Irina Verwer.
29. Yoga gives you a natural wind-down
Instead of watching a movie or checking Facebook for the 100th time, try practicing some restorative yoga. This type of practice is a very powerful way to calm the nervous system, thus improving sleep quality, helping the digestive system to do its job overnight, therefore giving you the energy you need to get up early the next morning to salute the sun 🙂
- Prepare your body and mind for a good night’s sleep with our Yoga for better sleep programme.
30. Yoga is a life-long lesson
The beautiful thing about yoga is that it can be adapted to suit anyone. Whether you’re a baby or a baby-boomer, a grumpy teenager or a great-grandma, you can practice yoga. The task is often in finding the type of practice that suits you and listening to your body.
Much has changed since physician Dean Ornish included yoga in his groundbreaking protocol for preventing, treating, and reversing heart disease more than three decades ago. Back then, the idea of integrating yoga with modern medicine was seen as far-out.
Today’s picture is very different: As yoga has become an increasingly integral part of 21st-century life, scientists, armed with new tools that allow them to look ever deeper into the body, have been turning their attention to what happens physiologically when we practice yoga—not just asana but also pranayama and meditation. These physicians, neuroscientists, psychologists, and other researchers are uncovering fascinating evidence of how the practice affects us mentally and physically and may help to prevent and assist in the treatment of a number of the most common ailments that jeopardize our vitality and shorten our lives.
Dozens of yoga studies are under way at medical institutions around the country, including Duke, Harvard, and the University of California at San Francisco. Some of the research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. More studies are on the way, thanks in part to the work of researchers at the Institute for Extraordinary Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, one of the first US research institutes to focus exclusively on yoga. And in India, scientist Shirley Telles heads up Patanjali Yogpeeth Research Foundation, which is spearheading studies large and small.
While studies of yoga’s impact on health are at an all-time high, experts say that much of the research is still in the early stages. But the quality is improving, says Sat Bir Khalsa, a Harvard neuroscientist who has studied yoga’s health effects for 12 years. It’s likely, he says, that the next decade will teach us even more about what yoga can do for our minds and bodies. In the meantime, the patterns beginning to emerge suggest that what we know about how yoga keeps us well may be just the tip of the iceberg.
1. Pain Reliever
Yoga shows promise as a treatment for relieving certain kinds of chronic pain. When German researchers compared Iyengar Yoga with a self-care exercise program among people with chronic neck pain, they found that yoga reduced pain scores by more than half. Examining yoga’s effects on a different kind of chronic pain, UCLA researchers studied young women suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an often debilitating autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the lining of the joints. About half of those who took part in a six-week Iyengar Yoga program reported improvements in measures of pain, as well as in anxiety and depression.
2. Yes, You Can!
Kim Innes, a Kundalini Yoga practitioner and a clinical associate professor at the University of Virginia, recently published a study on how yoga may benefit people who have a variety of health risk factors, including being overweight, sedentary, and at risk for type 2 diabetes. Forty-two people who had not practiced yoga within the previous year took part in an eight-week gentle Iyengar Yoga program; at the end of the program, more than 80 percent reported that they felt calmer and had better overall physical functioning. “Yoga is very accessible,” Innes says. “Participants in our trials, even those who thought they ‘could not do yoga,’ noted benefits even after the first session. My belief is that once people are exposed to gentle yoga practice with an experienced yoga therapist, they will likely become hooked very quickly.”
3. Ray of Light
Much attention has been given to yoga’s potential effect on the persistent dark fog of depression. Lisa Uebelacker, a psychologist at Brown University, got interested in examining yoga as a therapy for depression after studying and practicing mindfulness meditation. Because depressed people tend to be prone to rumination, Uebelacker suspected that seated meditation could be difficult for them to embrace. “I thought yoga might be an easier doorway, because of the movement,” she says. “It provides a different focus from worry about the future or regret about the past. It’s an opportunity to focus your attention somewhere else.” In a small study in 2007, UCLA researchers examined how yoga affected people who were clinically depressed and for whom antidepressants provided only partial relief. After eight weeks of practicing Iyengar Yoga three times a week, the patients reported significant decreases in both anxiety and depression. Uebelacker currently has a larger clinical trial under way that she hopes will provide a clearer picture of how yoga helps.
4. Happy Day
It’s taken the development of modern technologies like functional MRI screening to give scientists a glimpse of how yogic practices like asana and meditation affect the brain. “We now have a much deeper understanding of what happens in the brain during meditation,” says Khalsa. “Long-term practitioners see changes in brain structure that correlate with their being less reactive and less emotionally explosive. They don’t suffer to the same degree.” Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have shown that meditation increases the activity of the left prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain that’s associated with positive moods, equanimity, and emotional resilience. In other words, meditating regularly may help you weather life’s ups and downs with greater ease and feel happier in your daily life.
5. Stay Sharp
Asana, pranayama, and meditation all train you to fine-tune your attention, whether by syncing your breathing with movement, focusing on the subtleties of the breath, or letting go of distracting thoughts. Studies have shown that yogic practices such as these can help your brain work better. Recently, University of Illinois researchers found that immediately following a 20-minute hatha yoga session, study participants completed a set of mental challenges both faster and more accurately than they did after a brisk walk or a jog.
Researchers are in the earliest stages of examining whether yogic practices could also help stave off age-related cognitive decline. “The yogic practices that involve meditation would likely be the ones involved, because of the engagement of control of attention,” says Khalsa. Indeed, research has shown that parts of the cerebral cortex—an area of the brain associated with cognitive processing that becomes thinner with age—tend to be thicker in long-term meditators, suggesting that meditation could be a factor in preventing age-related thinning.
6. Maintenance Plan
A 2013 review of 17 clinical trials concluded that a regular yoga practice that includes pranayama and deep relaxation in Savasana (Corpse Pose), practiced for 60 minutes three times a week, is an effective tool for maintaining a healthy weight, particularly when home practice is part of the program.
7. Rest Easy
In our revved-up, always-on world, our bodies spend too much time in an overstimulated state, contributing to an epidemic of sleep problems. A recent Duke University analysis of the most rigorous studies done on yoga for psychiatric conditions found promising evidence that yoga can be helpful for treating sleep disorders. Asana can stretch and relax your muscles; breathing exercises can slow your heart rate to help prepare you for sleep; and regular meditation can keep you from getting tangled up in the worries that keep you from drifting off.
8. Better Sex
In India, women who took part in a 12-week yoga camp reported improvements in several areas of sexuality, including desire, orgasm, and overall satisfaction. Yoga (like other exercise) increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body, including the genitals. Some researchers think yoga may also boost libido by helping practitioners feel more in tune with their bodies.
9. Cool Inflammation
We’re used to thinking of inflammation as a response that kicks in after a bang on the shin. But increasing evidence shows that the body’s inflammatory response can also be triggered in more chronic ways by factors including stress and a sedentary lifestyle. And a chronic state of inflammation can raise your risk for disease.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that a group of regular yoga practitioners (who practiced once or twice a week for at least three years) had much lower blood levels of an inflammation-promoting immune cell called IL-6 than a group new to yoga. And when the two groups were exposed to stressful situations, the more seasoned practitioners showed smaller spikes of IL-6 in response. According to the study’s lead author, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, the more experienced practitioners went into the study with lower levels of inflammation than the novices, and they also showed lower inflammatory responses to stress, pointing to the conclusion that the benefits of a regular yoga practice compound over time.
10. Younger-Looking DNA
While the fountain of youth remains a myth, recent studies suggest that yoga and meditation may be associated with cellular changes that affect the body’s aging process. Each of our cells includes structures called telomeres, bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes that get shorter each time a cell divides. When telomeres get too short, the cells can no longer divide and they die. Yoga, it seems, may help to preserve their length. Men with prostate cancer who took part in a version of the Ornish healthy lifestyle program, which included an hour a day of yoga, six days a week, showed a 30 percent jump in the activity of a key telomere-preserving enzyme called telomerase. In another study, stressed care-givers who took part in a Kundalini Yoga meditation and chanting practice called Kirtan Kriya had a 39 per-cent increase in telomerase activity, compared with people who simply listened to relaxing music.
11. Immune Activity
Many studies have suggested that yoga can fortify the body’s ability to ward off illnesses. Now one of the first studies to look at how yoga affects genes indicates that a two-hour program of gentle asana, meditation, and breathing exercises alters the expression of dozens of immune-related genes in blood cells. It’s not clear how the genetic changes observed in this study might support the immune system. But the study provides striking evidence that yoga can affect gene expression—big news that suggests yoga may have the potential to influence how strongly the genes you’re born with affect your health.
12. Your Spine on Yoga
Taiwanese researchers scanned the vertebral disks of a group of yoga teachers and compared them with scans of healthy, similar-aged volunteers. The yoga teachers’ disks showed less evidence of the degeneration that typically occurs with age. One possible reason, researchers speculate, has to do with the way spinal disks are nourished. Nutrients migrate from blood vessels through the tough outer layer of the disk; bending and flexing may help push more nutrients through this outer layer and into the disks, keeping them healthier.
13. Keep Your Heart Healthy
Despite advances in both prevention and treatment, heart disease remains the no. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. Its development is influenced by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and a sedentary lifestyle—all of which can potentially be reduced by yoga. Dozens of studies have helped convince cardiac experts that yoga and meditation may help reduce many of the major risk factors for heart disease; in fact, a review of no fewer than 70 studies concluded that yoga shows promise as a safe, effective way to boost heart health. In a study this year by researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center, subjects who participated in twice-weekly sessions of Iyengar Yoga (including pranayama as well as asana) significantly cut the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation, a serious heart-rhythm disorder that increases the risk of strokes and can lead to heart failure.
14. Joint Support
By gently taking joints—ankles, knees, hips, shoulders—through their range of motion, asana helps keep them lubricated, which researchers say may help keep you moving freely in athletic and everyday pursuits as you age.
15. Watch Your Back
Some 60 to 80 percent of us suffer from low-back pain, and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. But there’s good evidence that yoga can help resolve certain types of back troubles. In one of the strongest studies, researchers at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle worked with more than 200 people with persistent lower-back pain. Some were taught yoga poses; the others took a stretching class or were given a self-care book. At the end of the study, those who took yoga and stretching classes reported less pain and better functioning, benefits that lasted for several months. Another study of 90 people with chronic low-back pain found that those who practiced Iyengar Yoga showed significantly less disability and pain after six months.
16. Control Blood Pressure
One-fifth of those who have high blood pressure don’t know it. And many who do struggle with the side effects of long-term medication. Yoga and meditation, by slowing the heart rate and inducing the relaxation response, may help bring blood pressure down to safer levels. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently conducted one of the first randomized, controlled trials of yoga for blood pressure. They found that 12 weeks of Iyengar Yoga reduced blood pressure as well as or better than the control condition of nutrition and weight-loss education. (If you have high blood pressure, consult with your doctor and make sure it’s under control before you practice inversions.)
17. Down With Diabetes
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that adults at risk for type 2 diabetes who did yoga twice a week for three months showed a reduction in risk factors including weight and blood pressure. While the study was small, all who began the program stuck with it throughout the study, and 99 percent reported satisfaction with the practice. In particular, they reported that they liked the gentle approach and the support of the group. If larger, future studies show similar results, the researchers say, yoga could gain credence as a viable way of helping people stave off the disease.
18. News Flash
Many women have turned to yoga to help them cope with the symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to sleep disturbances to mood swings. A recent analysis of the most rigorous studies of yoga and menopause found evidence that yoga—which included asana and meditation—helps with the psychological symptoms of menopause, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In one randomized controlled trial, Brazilian researchers examined how yoga affected insomnia symptoms in a group of 44 postmenopausal women. Compared with women who did passive stretching, the yoga practitioners showed a big drop in incidence of insomnia. Other, more preliminary research has suggested that yoga may also help to reduce hot flashes and memory problems, too.
19. Emotional Rescue
Recent studies have suggested that exercise is linked with increased levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with positive mood and a sense of well-being. It turns out that Iyengar Yoga can also increase the levels of this chemical in the brain, more so than walking, according to a Boston University study. In another study, a group of women who were experiencing emotional distress took part in two 90-minute Iyengar Yoga classes a week for three months. By the end of the study, self-reported anxiety scores in the group had dropped, and measures of overall well-being went up.
20. Power Source
If you’ve felt the thrill of discovering you can hold Chaturanga for longer and longer periods, you’ve experienced how yoga strengthens your muscles. Standing poses, inversions, and other asanas challenge muscles to lift and move the weight of your body. Your muscles respond by growing new fibers, so that they become thicker and stronger—the better to help you lift heavy grocery bags, kids, or yourself into Handstand, and to maintain fitness and function throughout your lifetime.
21. Balancing Act
When you were a kid, your day included activities that tested your balance—walking along curbs, hopping on your skateboard. But when you spend more time driving and sitting at a desk than in activities that challenge your balance, you can lose touch with the body’s magical ability to teeter back and forth and remain upright. Balance poses are a core part of asana practice, and they’re even more important for older adults. Better balance can be crucial to preserving independence, and can even be lifesaving—falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in people over 65.
Bringing Yoga and Western Medicine Together: Duke Integrative Medicine
Duke University’s Integrative Medicine department in Durham, NC, has lived up to its name by integrating yoga into medicine and medicine into yoga. The department is one of the only major medical centers to offer yoga teacher training. Its two programs, “Thera-peutic Yoga for Seniors” and “Yoga of Awareness for Cancer,” are taught by a team of yoga instructors, doctors, physical therapists, and mental health professionals.
These yoga teacher trainings accept about 100 people a year and involve elements of asana, pranayama, meditation, and mindfulness working together as adjuncts to the conventional medical treatments that patients may also be receiving simultaneously. Once training is complete, teachers can work on contract for hospitals and other health agencies.
Kimberly Carson, the founder and codirector of the yoga training programs, stresses that what sets the programs apart is their research-based approach: Medicine listens best when you speak its language, says Carson, a yoga therapist who has taught in medical settings for more than 15 years. “The evidence base is what the medical community listens to.”
Essential to the program’s success, says Carson, is the staff’s commitment to thinking critically about how they promote the benefits of yoga. “The quickest way to shut doors is to state as fact claims that aren’t substantiated,” she says.
Luckily, the evidence base for yoga and other alternative methods is fast growing, and Duke has been a forerunner in opening the lines of communication between yoga and medicine.
Turning Doctors Into Mind-Body Experts: Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine
Located in one of the best academic medical centers and in one of the most doctor-friendly cities in the country, the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital is well poised to train new doctors to incorporate mind-body techniques into their practice. Its founder and director emeritus, Dr. Herbert Benson, pioneered research on the relaxation response as a powerful antidote to the stress response; he was also one of the first to illustrate that meditation changes metabolism, heart rate, and brain activity as a result of the relaxation response. This commitment to research is still what makes the institute stand out: Benson and his colleagues recently published a landmark study illustrating some of the changes in gene expression that can come from practices that elicit the relaxation response, including meditation and yoga.
Physicians at the institute help treat patients for everything from heart disease to diabetes to infertility. Individual therapeutic yoga instruction is offered as an adjunctive approach for a wide variety of conditions, both physical and mental. Darshan Mehta, the institute’s medical director and director of medical education, says that along with maintaining its commitments to research and patient care, the Benson-Henry Institute is dedicated to educating medical students and residents in integrative medicine. “Boston is famous for training leaders in medicine,” Mehta says. “We need to expose the next generation of doctors to the benefits of mind-body medicine. My hope is that after studying at the Benson-Henry Institute they’ll be able to at least recognize value in it and perhaps add it to their practices in some way.”
Caring Health Care: Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program
The brainchild of Donna Karan, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee, and Beth Israel’s chair of integrative medicine, Woodson Merrell, MD, the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program seeks to strengthen the human element in hospital-based health care and to lessen the pain and anxiety many patients experience when undergoing treatment for cancer and other illnesses. Launched in 2009, the program offers a 500-hour training for yoga teachers and health care professionals in five healing modalities: yoga therapy, Reiki, essential-oil therapy, nutrition, and contemplative care. Included in the training are 100 hours of clinical rotations, carried out at participating hospitals and long-term care facilities in New York; Los Angeles; Columbus, Ohio; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“We’re bringing mindfulness into arenas where there is often only anxiety, panic, stress, and crisis states,” says Codirector Rodney Yee. “We all realize mindfulness and meditation are so important to daily life. This is a way to bring this to patients in a medical setting, to support patients’ needs.” For example, depending on the needs of the patient, a certified therapist might help patients do in-bed yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation that they can then repeat on their own.
Yee says he’s been amazed by the receptivity of the medical community toward the program. Old stigmas are dissolving, he says, and new attitudes are emerging. But it’s a two-way street, he adds. “The yoga community has our own work cut out for us, keeping up with the science and being open to addressing the issues that will affect yoga’s role in Western medicine for years to come.”
Former Yoga Journal editor Katherine Griffin is a writer and editor in Northern California.
Yoga – Benefits Beyond the Mat
Published: February, 2015
Yoga, an ancient practice and meditation, has become increasingly popular in today’s busy society. For many people, yoga provides a retreat from their chaotic and busy lives. This is true whether you’re practicing downward facing dog posture on a mat in your bedroom, in an ashram in India or even in New York City’s Times Square. Yoga provides many other mental and physical benefits. Some of these extend to the kitchen table.
Types of Yoga
There are many types of yoga. Hatha (a combination of many styles) is one of the most popular styles. It is a more physical type of yoga rather than a still, meditative form. Hatha yoga focuses on pranayamas (breath-controlled exercises). These are followed by a series of asanas (yoga postures), which end with savasana (a resting period).
The goal during yoga practice is to challenge yourself physically, but not to feel overwhelmed. At this “edge,” the focus is on your breath while your mind is accepting and calm.
A Better Body Image
Yoga develops inner awareness. It focuses your attention on your body’s abilities at the present moment. It helps develop breath and strength of mind and body. It’s not about physical appearance.
Yoga studios typically don’t have mirrors. This is so people can focus their awareness inward rather than how a pose — or the people around them — looks. Surveys have found that those who practiced yoga were more aware of their bodies than people who didn’t practice yoga. They were also more satisfied with and less critical of their bodies. For these reasons, yoga has become an integral part in the treatment of eating disorders and programs that promote positive body image and self-esteem.
Becoming a Mindful Eater
Mindfulness refers to focusing your attention on what you are experiencing in the present moment without judging yourself.
Practicing yoga has been shown to increase mindfulness not just in class, but in other areas of a person’s life.
Researchers describe mindful eating as a nonjudgmental awareness of the physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. They developed a questionnaire to measure mindful eating using these behaviors:
- Eating even when full (disinhibition)
- Being aware of how food looks, tastes and smells
- Eating in response to environmental cues, such as the sight or smell of food
- Eating when sad or stressed (emotional eating)
- Eating when distracted by other things
The researchers found that people who practiced yoga were more mindful eaters according to their scores. Both years of yoga practice and number of minutes of practice per week were associated with better mindful eating scores. Practicing yoga helps you be more aware how your body feels. This heightened awareness can carry over to mealtime as you savor each bite or sip, and note how food smells, tastes and feels in you mouth.
A Boost to Weight Loss and Maintenance
People who practice yoga and are mindful eaters are more in tune with their bodies. They may be more sensitive to hunger cues and feelings of fullness.
Researchers found that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. People who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practiced yoga had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared with those who did not practice yoga. Researchers attributed this to mindfulness. Mindful eating can lead to a more positive relationship with food and eating.
Yoga is known for its ability to soothe tension and anxiety in the mind and body. But it can also have an impact on a person’s exercise capacity.
Researchers studied a small group of sedentary individuals who had not practiced yoga before. After eight weeks of practicing yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.
Several small studies have found yoga to have a positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors: It helped lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension. It’s likely that the yoga restores “baroreceptor sensitivity.” This helps the body senses imbalances in blood pressure and maintain balance.
Another study found that practicing yoga improved lipid profiles in healthy patients as well as patients with known coronary artery disease. It also lowered excessive blood sugar levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes and reduced their need for medications. Yoga is now being included in many cardiac rehabilitation programs due to its cardiovascular and stress-relieving benefits.
Before you start a new exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor.
Researchers are also studying if yoga can help people with depression and arthritis, and improve survival from cancer.
Yoga may help bring calm and mindfulness to your busy life. Find registered yoga teachers (RYT) and studios (RYS) through The Yoga Alliance.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
How To Balance Yoga, Health and Wellness
In the hectic world we maneuver in each day, it’s no surprise that the focus has shifted to remind people to take care of themselves.
From making your favorite cup of tea for breakfast, to taking an hour after work to relieve your stress in the gym, there are countless ways to prioritize your needs.
When living a more balanced lifestyle, you are investing in yourself by focusing on your wellness and working to improve your health.
Whether you are new to the world of health and wellness or an old friend of the practice, something like a yoga retreat can put you on the right path to balance the basic trinity: mind, body and spirit.
In today’s society, the words “health and fitness” are paired together like peanut butter and jelly, implying that a person cannot be healthy if they’re not fit and vice versa.
The phrase, “health and fitness,” however, places all of the focus on the physical component of health while leaving out the equally important mental component.
Mind, body and spirit – the basic trinity – are connected and interlinked, meaning that a deficiency of one aspect of the trinity can lead to the deterioration of your overall health and wellness. To ensure a person is healthy means ensuring that each aspect is aligned with the other.
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Those who practice yoga cite some of its benefits as being physical, including a decrease in back pain and weight loss, as well as mental, including stress reduction and improved overall mood. People of any age or background who are looking to change their physical and mental capacity quickly can benefit from practicing yoga.
Yoga is not just about working out; it’s about leading a healthy lifestyle. Students are provided with a peaceful place in a world consumed by chaos, aiming to reach and tranquility that appeal to everyone.
An activity with versatility, yoga can be tailored to your lifestyle or change with you as your needs change. There are a variety of styles including hot yoga, power yoga, relaxation yoga, and prenatal yoga that can be done at home, in a studio, gym, or on a yoga retreat.
When practicing yoga, one does not only focus on one facet of its benefits, but rather its contribution to your overall health. By combining two aspects of the basic trinity – both mind and body – yoga can be a key aspect of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Yoga places a focus on strength training and flexibility by reaching postures and poses that are meant to strengthen your body from the inside out. The poses are meant to work the muscles around the spine, the core from which all other parts of the body operate. When the core is functioning properly, back, shoulder and neck pain decreases by improving your overall posture.
Internally, a healthy, organic diet can relieve constipation, irritable bowl syndrome and acid reflux.
By combining the strength training with mindful eating habits, your health can be jumpstarted and get your body back on track. As you progress into more advanced forms of yoga, these benefits are amplified even more, requiring more energy, focus and strength.
The final two aspects of the trinity – health and wellness – are often interchanged when, really, they are two separate concepts. Wellness is a dynamic process of becoming aware of and making choices towards achieving a healthy and fulfilling life.
It’s a conscious state that affects everything we do and every emotion we experience. From spiritual wellness, environmental wellness, to social wellness, this part of the trinity presents itself in many different areas of our everyday lives.
To actively seek awareness across the board, yoga is a great tool to take advantage of. Not only does it add to our physical and emotional health, it supplements our journey to achieve wellness in all aspects of our lives.
Wellness deals with mental health and a person’s receptiveness to the environmental changes occurring around them on a daily basis, making it a consequence of the mindful and meditative practices found during yoga sessions.
At the end of the day, the holistic trinity – yoga, health and wellness – incorporates all aspects of the basic trinity – mind, body and spirit.
By practicing yoga on a daily basis, you are exposing yourself to the potential benefits of this lifestyle. Yoga is the spine of the trio and, by living a yogi lifestyle; you are well positioned to reap the benefits in your health and wellness as well.
by: Ashley Dodson
The benefits of yoga provide both instant gratification and lasting transformation. In the fitness world, both are extremely important. Too much time with too few results can be incredibly discouraging, and monotonous routines week after week can lead to stagnation. Yoga can change your physical and mental capacity quickly, while preparing the mind and body for long-term health.
Yoga is for everyone
Most yoga studios and local gyms offer yoga classes that are open to all generations and fitness levels. It’s exciting to enter a room full of young teens, athletes, middle-aged moms, older gentlemen, and even fitness buffs and body builders. Everyone can feel accepted and included and, unlike other sports or classes that focus on niche clients, yoga tends to offer open arms. Whether you like to say “Om” or you can’t stand the word “yogi”; whether you are 92, 53, or even 12, yoga can help you.
Yoga encourages overall health and wellness
Yoga is not just about working out, it’s about a healthy lifestyle. The practice of yoga allows students to find stillness in a world consumed with chaos. Peace and tranquility achieved through focused training appeals to everyone.
Yoga’s deep breathing and meditation practices help foster an inner shift from to-do lists, kids and spouse’s needs, financial concerns, and relationship struggles to something a little bit bigger than the issues you face. Yoga helps relieve stress and declutters the mind, helping you to become more focused.
Yoga has many faces
One of the benefits of yoga is that you can choose a yoga style that’s tailored to your lifestyle, such as hot yoga, power yoga, relaxation yoga, prenatal yoga, etc. Whether you prefer to practice at home, in a private session, while watching a DVD or at a studio or gym, there are a huge variety of options available to suit your goals and needs.
If you’re a yoga beginner, hatha yoga, which focuses on basic postures at a comfortable pace, would be great for you. If you want to increase strength through using more of your own body’s resistance, power yoga may be right for you. If you’re ready for a deeper practice, Bikram, also called “hot yoga,” may be just what you’re looking for. In Bikram yoga, the room temperature is set to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in greater elimination of toxins from the body through the increased production of sweat. No matter your fitness level, fat percentage, or health history, yoga has a style for you.
Strength training and flexibility
Yoga’s focus on strength training and flexibility is an incredible benefit to your body. The postures are meant to strengthen your body from the inside out, so you don’t just look good, you feel good, too. Each of the yoga poses is built to reinforce the muscles around the spine, the very center of your body, which is the core from which everything else operates. When the core is working properly, posture is improved, thus alleviating back, shoulder, and neck pain.
The digestive system gets back on track when the stretching in yoga is coupled with a healthy, organic diet, which can relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and acid reflux. Another one of the benefits of yoga is that stretching and holding postures also causes muscles to lengthen, which gives the body a longer, leaner look.
How does power yoga build muscle?
Adapted from the basic Ashtanga yoga, power yoga requires increased energy, focus, and strength. Although power yoga evolved from the basics, it certainly is not a basic course.
How does it help build muscle? Most poses are held for five full breaths versus the usual one to three breaths. Muscles are challenged as the mind and body have to work together simultaneously to hold a position without giving up. Breathing, posing, moving, and increasing flexibility happen together at one time, which unearths a new level of discipline in your mind and body.
Power yoga and the core
Isometric exercises are one of the best ways to build core strength. Isometric, stemming from the words “same” and “length,” simply translates to holding one position without moving. Power yoga uses isometric exercises along with other postures that are designed to make the core and back stronger. Flexibility and balance stem from your core, so it’s important to train this area of the body. In turn, you can increase the strength and health of your entire body. Generally a high-temperature room is used in this practice to help keep the muscles warm and release additional toxins from the body.
Power yoga’s effect on the body
Here’s a list of some of the most beneficial aspects of power yoga:
- It increases endurance, strength, and flexibility.
- Mental endurance and physical stamina are tested through holding postures for extended breaths.
- Arm and shoulder strength is increased as you use your own body weight for resistance.
- Lats, traps, and other back muscles begin to support the spine better than before.
- Abdominals and obliques are refined and toned through building core muscles.
- Posture begins to correct itself over time.
- Hip flexors are stretched and strengthened.
- Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves are strengthened.
No matter what ails your aching body, or if you just want to take your fitness to a higher level, power yoga’s ability to build muscle has an undeniable effect on the total body.
When you step out of a yoga class, no doubt you feel better from head to toe. Your muscles feel more relaxed, you may feel stronger, and then there’s the mental clarity only om-ing can bring. But what’s really going on in your brain when you pop in and out of downward-facing dog?
“We know that accumulating evidence shows yoga is good for your body, health and mind. Yoga has been used in the treatment of anxiety conditions, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, and others,” says Jonathan Greenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Even when applied to large populations, like those in prison, it increases inmates’ sense of wellbeing and self-control.
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Yoga takes the edge off
With all of those broad benefits, you want to know exactly how a simple sun salutation or tree pose changes your brain. While research is still building, Greenberg notes that one potential reason is yoga’s big impact on dialing down chronic stress. “We know stress is a very fertile ground for many physical and mental ailments,” he says, also pointing out that evidence shows yoga in general can help improve mood and emotional regulation, both of which are associated with reductions in the stress hormone cortisol. Even better: yogis feel this even after a single class.
Take one recent study in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, which found that mind-body exercises like yoga actually decrease the cascade of inflammation that so often sits simmering in the body and wreaking havoc due to chronic stress.
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You also may capture that zen vibe because yoga is working on an even higher plane to drive down the stresses of the day, put them in perspective and help you cope better in the future when not-so-great things come your way.
Yoga helps you chill out and stay sharp
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The deep breathing and meditation may work on what’s called the HPA axis (or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which controls your sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response that keeps your body cued up) as well as the parasympathetic nervous system (this tells you to chill out). Yoga may reduce the SNS and increase the PNS, resulting in a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure, says Greenberg. Your brain takes cues from your body (and vice versa, of course), so when your body is calming down, your brain gets the message that all is well.
But you don’t want an activated PNS all the time. You’d be a chill zombie. You want to be more like a calm and collected person who’s on the ball. That involves a balance between your SNS and PNS, says Amy Wheeler, PhD, who serves on the board of directors for the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a professor at California State University in San Bernardino. “What yoga can teach you is to use your SNS when you need it for clarity, alertness and focus without going into the fight or flight response,” she says. “The ultimate goal of yoga is to be calm and alert,” she notes.
Yoga is working on an even higher plane to drive down the stresses of the day, put them in perspective and help you cope better in the future when not-so-great things come your way.
Yoga molds your brain in very good ways as you age
In addition to keeping your body young, yoga turns back the years on your brain, too. In one 2017 study published in the journal International Pschogeriatrics, older adults (over age 55) with mild cognitive impairment spent 12 weeks either practicing Kundalini yoga or memory training. While both groups’ memory improved, the yoga group saw a boost in executive functioning and emotional resilience, possibly due to the chanting in this yoga that strengthens verbal and visual skills, the researchers report.
Additional observational research on mindfulness and meditation (both are large components of yoga) sheds light on how classes may actually influence your brain structure, says Greenberg. (Research on yoga alone is limited, but you can make some inferences by looking at meditation studies, he notes.) Studies looking at how the brain changes before and after meditation found that brain structures involved in awareness, attention and self-related thinking changed in structure and increased in volume, he says. Plus, there’s your memory. “After eight weeks of meditation training, research found that the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory, developed more gray matter density,” he notes.
Finally, there’s the fact that yogis tend to have a cooler reaction to problem events — and you’re left wondering how they do it. As Greenberg points out, those who meditate have larger right insula (the portion of the brain that involves body awareness). That’s a good thing. “It’s important when you encounter a stressful situation. Knowing your reaction to stress can help you identify the emotion, nip it in the bud and prevent it from escalating,” he says. Your amygalda — the reptilian part of your brain that reacts to fear —may also decrease in reactivity in response to stress. How’s that for a zen attitude?
How to get the most out of yoga
There isn’t an agreement among researchers that there’s an ideal amount to practice yoga. Forthcoming research that Greenberg is a part of suggests you need 40 minutes a day for significant stress reduction. Of course, a single session can buffer your stress response, but there’s the question about how long that lasts for, and that’s not clear yet.
For her part, Wheeler suggests yoga twice a week. “I’ve been teaching students yoga for 21 years. Every quarter, I see that in just 10 weeks, there’s a noticeable decline in anxiety and stress,” she says. Three times per week is better, but start with the goal of two.
“We can talk about anxiety, depression and blood pressure lowering in yoga, all of those are proven. But the biggest thing we see that results from yoga is that your quality of life will change for the better,” she says.
You heard her. Grab your yoga mat and go!
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Why Yoga Benefits Your Mind and Body
If you’ve done your share of reading up on anything and everything related to yoga, you should know by now that yoga is practiced both for the physical and mental benefits it brings. Sure, yoga achieved mainstream popularity more as a satisfying fitness routine. But given how stressful life gets these days, more and more people are turning to yoga as a dual solution for their weight woes and stress or anxiety.
Doing Yoga Poses is Physically Engaging
You don’t have to know a lot about how to do yoga to be aware of the yoga benefits one gets from doing asanas or poses. If you’re doubtful about how physically effective and engaging yoga is, you can talk to friends or colleagues who are doing yoga and ask about how this ancient practice has helped them physically. Signing up for a simple and affordable yoga for beginners class would also help you learn about the many areas in the body that yoga can strengthen or tone.
For example, among the physical yoga benefits of doing the famous Downward Facing Dog is that it stretches your hamstrings and leg muscles while strengthening your knees and ankles. The poses you will learn at your yoga for beginners class, regardless of the number of sessions you’ve taken, will give your body more flexibility because they stretch your muscles and strengthen the joints. Other physical yoga benefits include increased lung capacity through breathing exercises, relief from menstrual discomfort, increase in reach and flexibility, improved posture, etc.
Yoga Teaches Balance, Focus, and Concentration
The great thing about yoga is that it is done with a holistic perspective. It’s true that there are certain types and classes of yoga for beginners that focus on being a physical exercise for weight loss. BUT all yogis will still teach you to first become attuned to your body and listen to your breathing. Learning to do this and realize a pattern of breathing requires a level of focus and concentration that very few other mental exercises would teach you. You have to learn to clear your mind and eliminate internal and external distractions so you can find your inner core.
One of the more obvious mental yoga benefits you will get is learning to balance. Contrary to what most people think, balance is not just a physical thing. It also requires mental focus to maintain the body in certain angles, which is something you will need to learn if you want to do yoga poses properly. Stress relief and increase in balance, focus, and concentration are just some of the mental benefits of yoga you can expect to get. Ultimately, this all results in calmness and peace of mind.
If you are constantly experiencing bouts of stress everyday, either in the workplace or at home, we suggest you start buying yoga clothes and look into doing yoga to help you manage stress and anxiety. At the same time, doing yoga for beginners will also relieve the physical manifestations of stress such as tense muscle and neck shoulders, back pain, and headaches. So even if you are not keen on doing yoga as a fitness routine, you will still greatly benefit from the positive mental and spiritual results it yields.
Need a pick-me-up? If you feel a bit low it’s tempting to got for a pint, order a pizza or treat yourself to some new shoes, but putting 15 minutes aside to practice yoga every day could transform your mood (and your health) in more ways than you could imagine.
Studies have shown that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which in turn can improve your overall health.
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, it’s easy to squeeze in just 15 minutes of yoga practice a day. Here are 10 reasons why it will be worth it:
1. Improve flexibility, strength, and posture
Daily yoga practice will help stretch and tone your body muscles. Popular poses like the plank will simultaneously work on strengthening your arms, legs, shoulders and abs. You don’t have to be super flexible to practice yoga, the beauty of yoga is that it can be practiced at all levels of ability.
A few minutes a day practicing poses like the warrior or the downward facing dog, will soon make you really feel the difference in your flexibility, whether you’re pretty bendy already or not.
❤️ Daily yoga helps improve your posture, making you walk taller and sit up straighter at your desk. Aches and pains caused by incorrect body posture such as back pain can also be alleviated.
2. Better all-round fitness
When thinking of improving your fitness, most of us think of huffing and puffing away at the gym. But weights are not the only way to work out. Yoga gives you all that a gym can, but in a peaceful, safe and more holistic way. It combines aspects of cardio, functional and strength training all in one. What more could you ask for? The best part about this workout is that it can be done at your own pace, in your own home.
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3. Weight loss
You don’t have to practice Hot Yoga or be able to bend double in a yoga pose to lose weight. An everyday gentle yoga practice will fuel the metabolic system and will help burn fat, leading to weight loss. Daily yoga can also help restore the hormonal balance in your body, which can normalise your body weight.
An everyday gentle yoga practice will fuel the metabolic system and help burn fat.
Levels of cortisol, the hormone that is released in response to stress will be lowered, leading to less overeating. Daily yoga also strengthens the overall mind-body connection and helps you deal more effectively with unpleasant emotions rather than reaching for food to suppress those feelings.
4. Increase your energy
Just a few minutes of yoga every day will provide that much-needed energy boost in our busy lives and will keep us fresh for longer. Yoga, with its unique synergy of body and breath work, is perfect when your reserves are running low.
Daily yoga practice will awaken the main energy centres (called chakras) in your body. Great poses for extra energy are those that extend the spine, such as the tree pose, allowing energy to circulate throughout the whole body, and poses that open the chest, like the cobra pose, encouraging the intake of more breath.
5. Reduce stress
Many work places now offer lunch-time yoga sessions because it’s been shown that yoga is an amazing stress buster. Any yoga practice, even a short daily one, should be made up of three elements; poses, breathing and meditation. Studies have shown that those people who regularly practice all three elements are better able to regulate their heart-rate variability (HRV). This generally means that their heart rate is lower, giving body the ability to respond to stress in a more flexible way.
Relaxing yoga poses can calm both your body and your mind.
Are you coping with so much stress that it’s keeping you awake at night? Studies have shown that practicing daily yoga can reduce insomnia. When experiencing insomnia, practice relaxing asanas or postures, such as forward fold (uttanasana) or lying on your back with your feet up the wall. Relaxing yoga poses such as the forward fold or lying on your back with your feet up the wall can calm both your body and mind.
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6. Breathe better
Breathing deeply and calmly is an essential part of every yoga practice. Yogic breathing techniques (called pranayama) focus on trying to slow down the breath and on breathing fully from the pit of your stomach to the top of your lungs.
These methods will make you feel more relaxed and balanced and will help you face the day with confidence and calm. They also have some great side benefits including increased lung capacity and more tidal volume (the total amount of air your lungs can hold at any one time). You can adopt these techniques whenever needed in daily life. They can help you stay calm in emergency situations, think clearer in stressful situations and they can help reduce pain.
7. Be happier
Adding a few yoga poses to your daily routine can make you an emotionally stronger and happier person. A recent study has shown that practicing regular yoga and meditation results in higher serotonin levels (the happiness hormone).
Just 15 minutes of yoga a day can change your brain chemistry and improve your mood.
The same study showed that long-term yoga practitioners have more mass in the areas of the brain associated with contentment. Another study has shown that the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels are higher after practicing yoga. Higher GABA levels are associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. To put it simply, just 15 minutes of yoga a day can start changing your brain chemistry and improving your mood.
8. Become more mindful
Yoga and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. When practicing yoga, you will shift your awareness to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany a given pose. That awareness will bring the mind back to the present moment – the main aim of mindfulness – where it can stay happy and focused.
Practicing mindfulness has lasting physical and psychological benefits that are very much in line with the benefits of yoga. You will feel more calm and relaxed, and less stressed and anxious. You will experience higher levels of energy and enthusiasm and more self-confidence and self-acceptance.
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9. Improve concentration and think clearer
Yoga poses and meditation require you to concentrate on your breathing. This process of observing your breath calms your mind and makes you more mentally relaxed. As a result of this mental stability, you’ll able to recollect and retain more information. Meditating for just a few minutes in the morning can result in better concentration throughout the day.
The process of observing your breath calms your mind and makes you more mentally relaxed.
By reducing mental stress and physical tension, we are able to recall easier and have more organised thoughts. Improved cognitive function happens when we are able to clear our minds and refresh. From a place of peace and calm, we are able to use our mental facilities more efficiently. Overall, by reducing mental stress and physical tension through daily yoga, you’ll be able to think sharper and have more organised thoughts.
10. Live longer
As you now know, everyday yoga will help you increase your level of fitness, regulate your heart rate, reduce your stress levels and make you a happier person. All those elements may add valuable years to your life.
It’s also known that yoga decreases the risk of heart disease, and it reduces the pace of your breathing which has been directly linked to a longer lifespan. Recent studies have shown that the meditation element of yoga might help delay the process of ageing by protecting the telomeres (caps) at the end of our chromosomes, too.
What more excuses do you need to hit the mat?
Last updated: 31-10-19
Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB) Dr Juliet McGrattan Dr Juliet McGrattan spent 16 years as a GP, two years as a Clinical Champion for Physical Activity for Public Health England and is the Women’s Health Lead for the 261 Fearless global running network. Her award winning book, Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health was published by Bloomsbury in 2017.
Yoga: What You Need To Know
What is yoga and how does it work?
Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy. It began as a spiritual practice but has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.
Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the United States typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as iyengar, bikram, and hatha yoga focus on these elements.
Yoga and two practices of Chinese origin—tai chi and qi gong—are sometimes called “meditative movement” practices. All three practices include both meditative elements and physical ones.
What are the health benefits of yoga?
Research suggests that yoga may:
- Help improve general wellness by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance
- Relieve low-back pain and neck pain
- Relieve menopause symptoms
- Help people manage anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations (but yoga has not been shown to help manage anxiety disorders, clinical depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder )
- Help people quit smoking
- Help people who are overweight or obese lose weight
- Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Although there’s been a lot of research on the health effects of yoga, many studies have included only small numbers of people and haven’t been of high quality. Therefore, in most instances, we can only say that yoga has shown promise for particular health uses, not that it’s been proven to help.
What does research show about yoga for wellness?
Studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity habits, sleep, and balance.
- Stress management. Of 17 studies (involving 1,070 total participants) of yoga for stress management included in a recent review, 12 showed improvements in physical or psychological measures related to stress.
- Mental/emotional health. In a recent review of 14 studies (involving 1,084 total participants) that assessed the effects of yoga on positive aspects of mental health, 10 studies found evidence of benefits, such as improvements in resilience or general mental well-being.
- Promoting healthy eating/activity habits. A 2018 survey of young adults (involving 1,820 participants) showed that practicing yoga regularly was associated with better eating and physical activity habits. In interviews, people who took the survey said they thought yoga supported healthier habits through greater mindfulness, motivation to participate in other forms of activity and eat healthier, and the influence of a health-minded yoga community.
- Sleep. Yoga has been shown to be helpful for sleep in several studies of cancer patients and older adults and in individual studies in other population groups, including people with arthritis, pregnant women, and women with menopause symptoms.
- Balance. Of 15 studies (688 total participants) looking at the effect of yoga on balance in healthy people, 11 showed improvements in at least one outcome related to balance.
Can yoga help with pain management?
Research has been done on yoga for several conditions that involve pain. Studies of yoga for low-back pain and neck pain have had promising results, and yoga is among the options that the American College of Physicians recommends for first-line treatment of chronic low-back pain. Very little research has been done on yoga for headaches, arthritis, or fibromyalgia, so it’s uncertain whether it can help to relieve pain from these conditions.
- Low-back pain.
- A 2018 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality evaluated 8 studies of yoga for low-back pain (involving 1,466 total participants) and found that yoga improved pain and function in both the short term (1 to 6 months) and intermediate term (6 to 12 months). The effects of yoga were similar to those of exercise.
- The American College of Physicians recommends using nondrug methods for the initial treatment of chronic low-back pain. Yoga is one of several suggested nondrug approaches.
- Neck pain. A 2019 review of 10 studies (686 total participants) found that practicing yoga reduced both the intensity of neck pain and disability related to neck pain and improved range of motion in the neck.
- Headaches. Very little research has been done on yoga for headaches. A 2015 attempt to review the research on this topic found only 1 study with 72 participants that could be evaluated. That study had favorable results, with decreases in headache intensity and frequency, but one study is not much evidence.
- Arthritis and fibromyalgia. There hasn’t been much research on yoga for arthritis or other conditions associated with joint pain. A 2013 evaluation found only 8 studies that could be evaluated: 3 on osteoarthritis (304 participants), 2 on rheumatoid arthritis (110 participants), 2 on fibromyalgia (96 participants), and 1 on carpal tunnel syndrome (51 participants). The studies showed weak evidence of a possible benefit for pain in all of the conditions except carpal tunnel syndrome, for which the data were insufficient for any recommendation to be made.
Is yoga a good way to lose weight?
There’s evidence that yoga may help people lose weight. In 2013, an NCCIH-supported review looked at 17 yoga-based weight control programs and found that most of them led to gradual, moderate reductions in weight. The programs with the best results included at least some of these elements:
- Longer and more frequent yoga sessions
- A longer duration of the overall program
- A yoga-based dietary component
- A residential component (such as a full weekend to start the program)
- A larger number of elements of yoga
- Home practice.
Another review, in 2016, looked at 10 studies of yoga in overweight or obese individuals and found that practicing yoga was associated with reduced body mass index (BMI; a measure of body fat based on height and weight).
Can yoga help you quit smoking?
There’s evidence that yoga may help people stop smoking. A 2014 report evaluated 10 studies (484 participants) in which yoga-based interventions were tested as an aid to smoking cessation. In most of the studies, yoga was associated with reduced cravings and a reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked.
How does yoga affect mental health?
There’s evidence that yoga may be helpful for anxiety associated with various life situations, such as medical conditions or stressful educational programs, and for depressive symptoms. However, yoga hasn’t been shown to help in managing diagnosed mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder, depression, or PTSD.
- In a 2013 review of 23 studies (involving 1,722 participants) of yoga for anxiety associated with life situations, yoga seemed to be helpful in some instances but not others. In general, results were more favorable for interventions that included at least 10 yoga sessions. The studies were of medium to poor quality, so definite conclusions about yoga’s effectiveness couldn’t be reached.
- A 2018 review of 8 studies of yoga for anxiety (involving 319 participants with anxiety disorders or elevated levels of anxiety) found evidence that yoga might have short-term benefits in reducing the intensity of anxiety. However, when only people with diagnosed anxiety disorders were included in the analysis, no beneficial effects of yoga were found.
- In a recent review of 23 studies (involving 1,272 participants) in people with depressive symptoms (although not necessarily diagnosed with depression), yoga was helpful in reducing symptoms in 14 of the studies.
- A 2017 review of 7 studies (involving 240 participants) looked at yoga interventions in people who had been diagnosed with depression. It found some evidence of beneficial effects, but the reviewers judged the evidence to be insufficient to justify recommending yoga for people with this condition. Problems included the small number of people studied and an inability to compare benefits with risks because of inadequate information on safety.
- A 2017 evaluation of 7 studies (involving 284 participants) of yoga for people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found only low-quality evidence of a possible benefit.
Can yoga help with menopause symptoms?
Yoga seems to be at least as effective as other types of exercise in relieving menopause symptoms. A 2018 evaluation of 13 studies (more than 1,300 participants) of yoga for menopause symptoms found that yoga reduced physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, as well as psychological symptoms.
Is yoga helpful for people with chronic diseases?
There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Thus, it could be a helpful addition to treatment programs.
- In a 2018 evaluation of 138 studies on the use of yoga in patients with various types of cancer (10,660 total participants), most of the studies found that yoga improved patients’ physical and psychological symptoms and quality of life.
- Many yoga studies have focused on breast cancer patients and survivors. A 2017 review of 24 studies in women with breast cancer (more than 2,100 total participants) found moderate-quality evidence that yoga helped reduce fatigue and sleep disturbances and improved health-related quality of life. The effects of yoga were similar to those of other types of exercise and better than those of educational programs.
- Multiple sclerosis. A 2014 review of 7 studies (involving 670 participants) found evidence that yoga had short-term benefits on fatigue and mood in people with multiple sclerosis, but it didn’t affect muscle function, cognitive function, or quality of life. The effects of yoga on fatigue were similar to those of other kinds of exercise.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A 2018 analysis of 10 studies (502 total participants) found evidence that yoga can improve physical ability (such as being able to walk a defined distance in a defined time), lung function, and quality of life in people with COPD.
- A 2016 review of 15 studies of yoga for asthma (involving 1,048 total participants) concluded that yoga probably leads to small improvements in quality of life and symptoms.
- Complementary health approaches such as yoga should never be used as a substitute for medical treatment for asthma.
What are the risks of yoga?
Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity for healthy people when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. However, as with other forms of physical activity, injuries can occur. The most common injuries are sprains and strains. Serious injuries are rare. The risk of injury associated with yoga is lower than that for higher impact physical activities.
Older people may need to be particularly cautious when practicing yoga. The rate of yoga-related injuries treated in emergency departments is higher in people age 65 and older than in younger adults.
To reduce your chances of getting hurt while doing yoga:
- Practice yoga under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
- If you’re new to yoga, avoid extreme practices such as headstands, shoulder stands, the lotus position, and forceful breathing.
- Be aware that bikram yoga (“hot yoga”) has special risks related to overheating and dehydration.
- Pregnant women, older adults, and people with health conditions should talk with their health care providers and the yoga instructor about their individual needs. They may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices.
How popular is yoga in the United States?
About one in seven U.S. adults practiced yoga in the past 12 months, according to a 2017 national survey. Among children age 4 to 17, it was about 1 in 12. The percentage of people who practice yoga grew from 2007 to 2012 and again from 2012 to 2017. This was true for both adults and children.
Why do Americans practice yoga?
National survey data from 2012 showed that 94 percent of adults who practiced yoga did it for wellness-related reasons, while 17.5 percent did it to treat a specific health condition. The numbers add up to more than 100 percent because some people reported doing both.
The majority of adults who practiced yoga said that it helped in these wellness-related ways:
- 86 percent said it reduced stress
- 67 percent said it helped them feel better emotionally
- 63 percent said it motivated them to exercise more regularly
- 59 percent said it improved sleep
- 82 percent said it improved overall health and made them feel better.
Smaller numbers of people reported other benefits:
- 43 percent said yoga motivated them to eat healthier
- 39 percent said yoga eased coping with health problems
- 25 percent of people who currently smoke cigarettes said yoga motivated them to cut back or stop smoking cigarettes
- 12 percent of people who currently drink alcohol said yoga motivated them to cut back or stop drinking alcohol.
Do different groups of people have different experiences with yoga?
Much of the research on yoga in the United States has been conducted in populations similar to those among whom yoga is most popular—that is, predominantly female, non-Hispanic white, well-educated people with relatively high incomes. Other people—particularly members of minority groups and those with lower incomes—have been underrepresented in yoga studies.
Different groups of people may have different yoga-related experiences.
- Differences related to age. In one survey, middle-aged people were more likely to be motivated to practice yoga to increase muscle strength or lose weight, while older adults were more likely to be motivated by age-related chronic health issues. As mentioned earlier, older people may also be more likely to need treatment for yoga-related injuries.
- Differences related to education. National survey data indicate that “lack of knowledge” is more commonly reported as a reason for not practicing yoga among people with lower educational attainment than those with greater education, both in the general population and among people with low-back pain.
- Differences related to sex. A study found evidence for differences between men and women in the effects of specific yoga poses on muscles. And a study in veterans found preliminary evidence that women might benefit more than men from yoga interventions for chronic back pain.
Research Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
NCCIH-sponsored studies are investigating the effects of yoga on a variety of conditions including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Sleep disturbance and fatigue in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy
- Depression in adolescents
- Chronic pain in veterans.
More To Consider
- Don’t use yoga to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
- Ask about the training and experience of the yoga instructor you’re considering.
- Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.
77 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga
- Cholesterol. Yoga practice lowers cholesterol through increased blood circulation and burning fat. Yoga practice is a great tool to fight against harmful cholesterol levels.
- Lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system boosts your immunity and reduces toxins in your body. The only way to get your lymphatic system flowing well is by movement. The specific movements involved in yoga are particularly well-suited for promoting a strong lymphatic system.
- Glucose. There is evidence to suggest that yoga may lower blood glucose levels.
- Sodium. As does any good exercise program, yoga reduces the sodium levels in your body. In today’s world of processed and fast foods that are full of sodium, lessening these levels is a great idea.
- Endocrine functions. Practicing yoga helps to regulate and control hormone secretion. An improved endocrine system keeps hormones in balance and promotes better overall physical and emotional health.
- Triglycerides. Triglycerides are the chemical form of fat in the blood, and elevated levels can indicate a risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. A recent study shows that yoga can lead to “significantly lower” levels of triglycerides. Read more about the results of that study here.
- Red blood cells. Yoga has been shown to increase the level of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood, and too few can result in anemia and low energy.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps boost immunity, helps produce collagen, and is a powerful antioxidant; and a yoga regimen can increase the vitamin C in your body.
Exercise Health Benefits: As a form of exercise, yoga offers benefits that are sometimes not easily found among other exercise regimens. Check out these reasons to include yoga in your or your patient’s health program.
- Low risk of injury. Due to the low impact of yoga and the controlled aspect of the motions, there is a very low risk of injury during yoga practice compared to other forms of exercise.
- Parasympathetic Nervous System. In many forms of exercise, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, providing you with that fight-or-flight sensation. Yoga does the opposite and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system lowers blood pressure and slows the pace of your breathing, which allows relaxation and healing.
- Muscle tone. Consistently practicing yoga leads to better muscle tone.
- Subcortex. Subcortical regions of brain are associated with well-being, and yoga is thought to dominate the subcortex rather than the cortex (where most exercise dominates).
- Reduced oxygen consumption. Yoga consumes less oxygen than traditional exercise routines, thereby allowing the body to work more efficiently.
- Breathing. With yoga, breathing is more natural and controlled during exercise. This type of breathing provides more oxygen-rich air for your body and also provides more energy with less fatigue.
- Balanced workout of opposing muscle groups. As with all of yoga, balance is key. If a muscle group is worked in one direction, it will also be worked in the opposite direction to maintain balance. This balance results in a better overall workout for the body.
- Non-competitive. The introspective and self-building nature of yoga removes any need of competition in the exercise regimen. With the lack of competition, the yogi is free to work slowly to avoid any undue injury as well as promote a more balanced and stress-free workout.
- Joint range of motion. A study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine indicated that joint range of motion was improved by participants who practiced yoga.
- Eye-hand coordination. Without practice, eye-hand coordination diminishes. Yoga maintains and improves eye-hand coordination.
- Dexterity. The strong mind-body connection and flexibility gained from yoga leads to grace and skill.
- Reaction time. Research done in India shows that reaction time can be improved with specific yoga breathing exercises in conjunction with an already established yoga practice. The improvement was attributed to the faster rate of processing and improved concentration gained from yoga.
- Endurance. Working the entire body, yoga improves endurance and is frequently used by endurance athletes as a supplement to their sport-specific training.
- Depth perception. Becoming aware of your body and how it moves, as one does in yoga practice, leads to increased depth perception.
Disease Prevention: Doctors and nurses love yoga because studies indicate that it can help prevent the following diseases.
- Heart disease. Yoga reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, keeps off weight, and improves cardiovascular health, all of which lead to reducing your risk of heart disease.
- Osteoporosis. It is well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Additionally, yoga’s ability to lower levels of cortisol may help keep calcium in the bones.
- Alzheimer’s. A new study indicates that yoga can help elevate brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels. Low GABA levels are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s. Meditation like that practiced in yoga has also been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
- Type II diabetes. In addition to the glucose reducing capabilities of yoga, it is also an excellent source of physical exercise and stress reduction that, along with the potential for yoga to encourage insulin production in the pancreas, can serve as an excellent preventative for type II diabetes.
Symptom Reduction or Alleviation: Medical professionals have learned that the following diseases or disorders can all be helped by maintaining a yoga practice.
Yoga is one of the simplest forms of exercise you can do to improve your health, mind, and body. All you need is a yoga mat, and some comfortable clothing or none if you prefer naked yoga!
Research shows that adding this ancient practice into your lifestyle can help boost your brain and heart health as well as the body strength and flexibility— just to name a few.
To put simply, there is not a thing yoga can not improve!
So if you’ve have been thinking about getting started, here are five reasons to motivate and propel you forward.
1. Improves Your Flexibility
If you’ve ever watched a yoga class or people doing yoga poses, one thing you probably noticed is that they pretty flexible.
Especially performing poses such as the downward facing dog, seated forward bend, and standing forward fold.
This doesn’t mean you need to be flexible to do yoga, but if you practice regularly and stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual increase in your flexibility. And eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become a piece of cake.
In addition to an improvement in your flexibility, aches and pains will start to disappear, which is often associated with tight hips, lower back, and rounded shoulders from sitting long hours at a desk.
Overall your posture and body alignment will improve significantly all because of the improvement in your flexibility.
2. Develop Your Strength
Develop your strength
Although the infamous spiritual and transformational benefits of yoga themselves make this practice worth a try, don’t discredit its effectiveness as a physical activity.
Some yoga poses or postures help you become (and stay) fit and trim, control your weight, and reduce your stress level.
According to The American Council on Exercise’s study on yoga, the participants who practiced 8 weeks of Hatha Yoga increased their muscle mass and improved their physical strength (they were able to perform more pushups and sit-ups after the study.)
This comes as no surprise to yoga practitioners as common postures such as four-limbed staff pose also known as Chaturanga and boat pose are bodyweight exercises that stimulate muscles the same way pushups, crunches, and planks do.
Through different poses, yoga builds strength, flexibility, and stamina.
3. Reduce Your Stress Level
Reduce your stress level
When yoga is practiced with intention, it can help you relax your mind and body and give you the feeling of oneness.
According to Yoga Journal, yoga postures (poses) that combine stretching exercises, controlled breathing, and relaxation techniques can help you reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve heart function.
4. Increase Your Sex Drive
Increase your sex drive
It’s been said that our overall appetite for sex decrease as we age.
Well, research suggests that yoga may help you get a boost and improve your sex drive.
A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine (Nov. 12, 2009) found that regular yoga practice improves women’s sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, and overall satisfaction.
Is there a particular pose for it? You bet!
Harvard Health Publications listed Cobra Pose as a yoga pose that enhances sexual function.
In addition to improving your physical strength, and flexibility, reducing your stress and enhance your mental focus, yoga can also help you get better sleep at night. According to Harvard Medical School patients with sleep disorder improved their quality of sleep by practicing yoga daily for 8 weeks.
5. May Help You Lose Weight
Yoga may help you lose weight
Just like any other form of exercise, yoga can be an effective tool for weight loss.
Even though most yoga is not as fast-paced as some cardio and HIIT workouts, you still burn calories which drives weight loss.
According to Harvard Health, a 155-pound person can burn 149 calories during 30 minutes of Hatha yoga, the most common class of yoga in fitness gyms and yoga studios.
Since the most effective way to lose weight is through exercise and healthy eating, practicing yoga definitely qualifies as a weight loss tool.
I have been practicing yoga for past five years. And despite yoga being my only form of exercise at times, I have been able to maintain a healthy weight.
Take Home Message
Yoga offers major benefits that can impact your health and life from the inside out.
Adding yoga to your lifestyle can improve your health, help you lose weight, and increase your sex drive just to name a few.
It will uplift your mood and help you sleep better at night.
So are you ready to kick-start your journey with yoga?
As we mentioned earlier, yoga is one of the simplest forms of exercise you can get started with. You don’t need a gym or exercise equipment to begin.
All you need is a yoga mat and some yoga poses to get your body moving.
As a starter, start with this 5-Minute Morning Yoga Routine.
Do you have any yoga benefits that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below to let me know.
Originally published at www.fitwirr.com